Gert Seekins spoke on April 27, 1996 at the Land's End Resort in Homer, Alaska for a Communities of Memory meeting where people told stories about life in Homer. In this recording, Gert talks about what Homer was like when they first arrived, and how they ended up getting involved in the tourist industry.
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Coming to Homer
Working in the cannery
Starting the first Bed and Breakfast in Homer
Getting into the rental business
Starting tours in Homer
Their current home
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GERT SEEKINS: Well, I feel like I'm the new kid on the block, because we didn't get here until 1969.
But in the early '50s we were farming in Wisconsin and read a lot about people coming to Alaska, and have always had that kind of as a desire in our heart.
And after Floyd completed college -- after we had been farming awhile he went to college and -- to become a minister, and in 1969 --
well about in '68 or '67, Ray Arno -- we had met him from Minnesota when he had came back, and had asked Floyd, as well as another minister friend had asked Floyd to come to Alaska.
And we had debated about that and we thought, oh, we're just happy in northern Minnesota.
But if the opportunity would come again we would, so in 1969 we moved up here, and Floyd was the assistant pastor at the Christian Community Church. And then in March became the full-time pastor there.
And during that time, when we were up on the ABI property -- where we came from I was everything.
I mean, we were the only thing in town, because there was only a church and filling station.
We lived in a resort area in the north woods of Minnesota. And I just got bored.
And so I thought, well I'm gonna go to the cannery to work. And I knew I wouldn't work when the kids -- I'd be home from school when the kids got home and I'd see if I could get a job like that.
And I'd asked Mrs. Miller if I could be off when the kids got home from school.
Well, Harry Gregoire was my big boss and Inez was out there, too.
And pretty soon they made it pretty tough on you if there was product there to be able to quit in the middle of the line, when there was still shrimp going, to be home when the kids got home from school.
And they were bigger, and Floyd was always home, so I just kept working there.
And while we were -- while I was working at the cannery, I think Harry gave me the idea to become an entrepreneur.
Because at the cannery -- well some of the experiences at the cannery were pretty neat.
One day Inez didn't come in on time.
And she shot a moose on the way coming into town, so she was late for the line there with the shrimp.
But she cleaned out her moose, and took care of all the meat and everything and got there.
But there were different decisions that I had made at the cannery that I thought helped them make money, like I corrected some of the scales, and probably Harry remembers that that we saved the cannery some money, because the scales were off a little bit, and so forth.
And then Harry asked me to do a job, and I thought, well, this job could probably be done more effectively if we'd go like this.
And Harry said to me, he said, "Gert, if I tell you to dig a hole with a spoon, you'll dig it with a spoon."
So, you told me that. So I thought, well, I think I'm gonna get another job.
Because I thought I had more potential than that.
And when I was asked to speak today, it was to say how we got started, because we started the first bed and breakfast in Homer.
And the first tourism -- the first tour in Homer as well.
And so that's really what I'm here for.
But in the early '70s -- well some of my recollection of Homer was, well, like we just had the dirt road down Main Street.
And then the fire hall was where the old library is located.
And whenever the fire siren would go off, why, we'd run down there to see where the fire was because they'd always print it, you know, on the chalk board to see where the fire was located. And I thought that was pretty neat.
And then about in 1973 or 1974, the old annex building to the fire hall was right across -- about where the Grog Shop is around in that area, and that caught fire.
And Floyd looked at that building and he thought we should do something with that building. It just sat there.
And so we called up MaryAnn Mullins to see about purchasing that building.
And I think maybe the bids had already been closed on it, but MaryAnn said, "Boy, we didn't get anybody that wanted to pay anything for this building. Everybody wants money to move it."
And we said, "Well, we'll give you $200 if -- and we'll just move it." So that was big-time stuff.
So we paid $200 for this building to get it started in the rental business.
And Floyd had remodeled that. We moved it down on Klondike and bought a little piece of land there, like for $4500 in those days, and built our first apartment building, and that's what got us into the rental business.
He wanted to make a boarding house out of this building, and we had bought Wilma's old house up on Svedlund Subdivision, up high there -- a dinky little shack that we remodeled.
And in Alaska, you never do anything temporary, because it lasts, and that was something that we were told when we first came here. "Don't build a house and move into it, because it'll always last like that."
But Floyd wanted to build a boarding house out of it.
And we knew Harris and Thelma, and I had cleaned rooms a little bit for Thelma just off and on once in awhile to lend a hand and get a little extra money.
And we thought it would be a good business. And I was so against that. "I don't want to be cooking for people, and cleaning rooms, and cleaning toilets and things like that."
The very thing I ended up doing.
But then in 1982, I think it was that we started our first bed and breakfast in Homer, up on the hillside.
And prior to that, in the the late -- in the early '70s, when we were living at the parsonage at the Community Church, I started volunteering for the museum.
And I was working in the gift shop, and I really enjoyed the museum.
And Ruth Newman and Margaret, and a lot of the ladies were there, and I really enjoyed working there.
And it was because of that, working there, that Hazel Heath suggested that I work with the tour company that first moved to Homer in 1976.
So I managed the tours for Alaska Tour and Marketing, and then when they pulled out of Homer I kept getting calls about people that wanted to still have tours here.
And I said, "Well, I drive the school bus, and I can lease a school bus, and I can do your tour and you can pay me whatever you felt like it was worth."
And that's how we got started into the tour business.
I bought a van, went down to the city to get the ordinances -- see what I had to do, and I started Homer Tours.
And in the early '70s also I was the first lady school bus driver in Homer.
And I loved it. I loved the kids. I felt like their grandma. I got to see these little kids when they got on the bus in the morning the first day of school, and I thought, "Well, their grandmas didn't get to see 'em, but I did."
It was pretty special.
But anyway, we got into the tour business by driving the bus for Alaska Tour and Marketing and then we bought our own van and ended up with the motor coaches and the buses and now we have sold those, two years ago.
And started the bed and breakfast business on a small scale and gradually got it quite large, up on the hillside, where people always want a view and private baths.
And now they want hot tubs, and decks, and cabins, and everything that people want.
But we kept full all the time.
And then also, too -- then we sold that a couple of years ago, and then had our referral agency that was just a natural thing because we were always full we just started booking for other people in town.
And we're really interested in tourism. And just this last month sold our referral agency, so we are retired.
But what we did, is we bought -- years ago at the airport, and all of you probably remember before I do, but the little buildings that perhaps were the airport terminals before?
And in 1956 the airport terminal was built and Mr. Greer built the airport terminal.
The old AAI building, and it was PenAir -- PNA was there and then Wien -- Western and Wien and AAI and Era and Era Cargo.
And we now had purchased that building and moved it on Kachemak Drive and made a home out of the old airport terminal.
And we love it. It's build so solid and so strong, we've just taken all the logs down to the natural. So we have a little bit of history in our home.
And we love Homer. It's been good to us.
We love it, we love the beauty of it, and I love working for the Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council representing Homer as a destination.
And Homer is such a big tourist destination, and tourism is such a big industry in Alaska and all over the world, that it's gonna do nothing but grow.
And it's been wonderful to be involved in the infancy stage of having the cruise ships coming in and the first years going over to Diana's place with the -- on the “Danny J” and walking out to the kashim and meeting all the tourists, and it's been a fun industry.
And also, too, I think that you should say that Sam Pratt is your brother, isn't he?
A lot people probably didn't realize that. But Sam also started me in art, and I have been involved in artsy things for many years and I'm enjoying that now. Thank you.